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Lowell Mason

composer and compiler of hymns and anthems

Lowell Mason

Lowell Mason was born into a musical family, in Medfield, Massachusetts, on January 8, 1792. He received his first formal musical training at the age of 13, in a singing school run by Amos Albee, who in 1805 had gathered hymns into a collection published as The Norfolk Collection of Sacred Harmony; he also studied under Oliver Shaw, composer of hymns and ballads. Before long he was directing a choir and leading the town band.

In 1812, Mason moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he became a partner in a dry goods business and a bank clerk. He also became active in the Independent Presbyterian Church, where he served as choir director and organist. He was also influential in convincing the church to establish the first Sunday School for black children in America. In 1817 he began studying composition and theory under Frederick L. Abel, and also began composing his own hymns and anthems.

Mason's first collection of hymns and anthems -- The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music -- was published anonymously in 1822. He initially published the work anonymously, fearing that his banking career would suffer if the collection failed to garner interest. His fears were unfounded, however, as the collection eventually went through 22 editions and sold more than 50,000 copies.

Mason continued to conduct choirs and play the organ in various Savannah churches until 1827, when he moved to Boston. He began teaching children's music classes there in 1829, and, in 1833, co-founded the Boston Academy of Music. From 1829 to 1832, he also served as president and music director of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society.

In the summer of 1834, under the auspices of the Boston Academy of Music, Mason began holding classes for music teachers. These classes ultimately led to music being taught experimentally in four Boston public schools in 1837, and to music becoming part of the permanent curriculum in 1838. From 1837 to 1845, he served as superintendent of music for the Boston Public Schools.

In 1851, Mason retired from Boston musical activity and moved to New York City, where sons Daniel and Lowell, Jr. had a music business. In December 1851, he traveled to Europe, where he spent sixteen months observing educational systems and lecturing on congregational singing and his theories of musical education.

Returning to New York City in 1853, Mason became music director of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. One of first acts was to disband the church's professional choir and replace it with congregational singing accompanied by organ music (the organ he had installed just happened to be one built by his sons). He remained at Fifth Avenue until 1860, when he retired from active service to concentrate on composing and compiling hymns. By the time of his death, Mason had published 48 collections of sacred music, 11 collections of secular music, and 17 collections of children's music; he also wrote over 1,200 hymns, including "Nearer, My God, to Thee;" "My Faith Looks Up to Thee;" and "From Greenland's Icy Mountains."

Lowell Mason died at his Orange, New Jersey, home on August 11, 1872.

Principal Compilations
The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music
The Boston Academy's Collection of Church Music
The Boston School Song Book (1840)
Carmina Sacra (1841)
Sabbath Hymn and Tune Book (1859)

Other Principal Writings
Address on Church Music (1826)
Manual of the Boston Academy of Music (1843)
Musical Letters from Abroad (1853)

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The Robinson Library >> Musics >> Biography: Composers and Songwriters

This page was last updated on 09/27/2017.